President Joe Biden doesn’t have to go back much further than his time as vice president to understand the difficulties that lie ahead in pushing his new $1 trillion infrastructure agreement to the American people and getting the money out the door quickly enough for them to notice a difference.
When President Barack Obama pushed through a massive stimulus program in 2009, his administration was chastised for taking too long to get the money into the sluggish economy, and Obama subsequently admitted that he failed to persuade Americans on the bill’s benefits.
In 2012, Obama said that his worst blunder was believing that the president was “simply about getting the policies right” rather than conveying “a tale to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose.”
Biden performed a celebration lap Saturday after his infrastructure plan passed the House of Representatives, marking a hard-fought triumph on a $1.2 trillion piece of legislation that he claims would significantly improve Americans’ lives in the months and years ahead.
The president termed it a “once-in-a-generation investment” to address a number of issues, including failing roads and bridges, a lack of cheap internet access, water polluted by lead pipes, and households and communities unprepared to deal with increasingly frequent harsh weather.
Passage of the bill came at the conclusion of a rough week for a beleaguered president whose poll ratings have plummeted as Americans continue to be irritated by the coronavirus outbreak and an uneven economic recovery.
However, Biden has a number of obstacles in publicizing the new deal while still continuing to campaign for a long-debated $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate plan, which would significantly increase health, family, and climate change programs.
In his dwindling poll ratings, Biden’s stakes are evident.
Priorities “Voters are irritated, distrustful, and exhausted – of COVID, of economic hardship, of school closings, of increasing costs and stagnating wages, of overpriced prescription medicines and health care, and more,” USA, a Democratic big money group, said in a message this week.
“Voters will penalize the party in power if they don’t get outcomes (and don’t communicate them effectively),” warned chairman Guy Cecil.
While surveys show that most Americans approve the infrastructure package, others show that many people are still unsure what it contains. In a September Pew Research Center poll, roughly half of people said they support the infrastructure measure, while a little more than a quarter said they were undecided.
The White House is planning an aggressive sales drive for the infrastructure bill, with Vice President Joe Biden planning visits around the country to discuss the legislation’s implications.
On Wednesday, he’ll visit a port in Baltimore and promises a big signing ceremony for the infrastructure bill when legislators return.
The administration is also sending the heads of the departments of transportation, energy, interior, and commerce, as well as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and top White House aides, to speak about the bill in national and local media, as well as African American and Spanish-language media. They’re also distributing explainers throughout the departments’ digital channels to assist Americans comprehend the bill’s provisions.
But, even as White House officials discuss the law, they must also guarantee that the money is spent. It’s a task that Biden is well acquainted with, having overseen the stimulus’s execution as vice president in 2009. After that, despite vows to prioritize “shovel-ready projects,” delays caused by permits and other obstacles led Obama to remark in 2011 that “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we planned.”
Democrats thought they didn’t do enough at the time to remind Americans of how they had improved their lives, which allowed Republicans to frame the election debate around government overreach. Democrats suffered major losses in the midterm elections the following year, losing control of the House and a handful of Senate seats.
Biden, for one, argued on Saturday that the infrastructure bill’s impacts could be felt in as soon as two to three months. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg made the rounds, stating that some projects are merely waiting for money, while others, like as investments in new electric car chargers and initiatives to link communities split by roads, may take longer. Buttigieg told NPR that, unlike the 2009 stimulus, Biden’s infrastructure measure is “about both the short-term and the long-term.”
“There will be employment right now and for years,” he said.
While Biden is using the infrastructure package as proof that Democrats can deliver, he will still have to deal with continued wrangling over his other major agenda item, the social spending measure.
Unlike the infrastructure measure, which received 19 Republican votes in the Senate, the social spending plan has unanimous Republican opposition, which means Biden will need every Democratic vote in the Senate to get it enacted. With the party’s moderate and progressive factions squabbling over the details of the final bill, and two centrist holdouts — West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema — opposed to many key progressive priorities, getting the second part of his agenda passed may be a much more difficult puzzle to solve.
“On infrastructure, everyone was in agreement. On “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, stated, “You can always agree on whether or not to build the roads and bridges that you need, generate the water and sewage that you need, and maintain your train and your ports.”
“But when you start getting into new material,” Clyburn explained, “it’s something else again.”